Driving Impact "One Roof" at a time
To celebrate 100 years in the Australian market, BASF teamed up with entrepreneurial community ‘One Roof’, to offer three scholarships to women looking to change the world with science or by building businesses with a positive environmental impact.
Here, we catch up with one of the talented scholarship recipients, Karolina Biernacka, Business Development Manager at Nation Energie.
From her earliest school days, Karolina Biernacka was fascinated by science and finding out about how things work. She didn’t know it then, but this curiosity would take her on an adventure away from her home country of Poland and around the world. “My passion comes from my family, as both my parents are engineers, so they were always paying a lot of attention to our studies. From engineering to chemistry and on to mathematics, they had a very scientific and rational approach to everything.”
Karolina’s love of science became further charged when she enrolled in a chemical technology degree at Warsaw University of Technology, where she discovered a passion for one particular area.
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Karolina had the opportunity to move to France to complete a Masters in Materials for Energy Storage, building an expertise in battery materials and how energy is stored but also very importantly, getting the chance to rotate through different universities every six months.
“In the last semester we got to choose the country and the university that we wanted to do our Masters project in, and I chose Australia. It was a bit of a random decision, but I thought I’d probably never again have the chance to come to Australia because it’s so far away, so thought ‘let’s do this’. And I was extremely lucky with my choice; soon after that I found out that Deakin has a well-established reputation in the field of battery science. Specifically, I was drawn to the cutting-edge research being conducted by the research group led by Prof. Maria Forsyth. I was then confident that this decision will not only help me achieve my academic goals, but also provided me with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the industry.”
Karolina enjoyed her time in Australia so much so that after graduating from her Masters, she returned to pursue her PhD in Novel Electrolytes for Sodium Batteries. Whilst studying, Karolina was very keen to test her skills in a real-world application, which led to her enrolment in a green technology ideas competition, an opportunity which introduced her to the world of start-ups.
“I applied for the Climate Launch competition with the team from Deakin which was then working on developing sodium-ion batteries for mobility applications in Southeast Asia. As we were progressing through this competition, we also learnt there was significant and growing demand for this technology, and the idea just kept validating itself over time”.
With the spark already ignited, when Karolina was introduced to Tom Gregson, the CEO of Australian sodium-ion battery start up Nation Energie, she immediately knew that this was the work that the was passionate and wanted to be involved in. Initially, Tom offered Karolina an internship whilst she completed her PhD, after which she became a full-time employee.
Currently as Nation Energie’s Business Development Manager, Karolina works with Tom to engage with their joint venture partners, ICM Investments and UK-based sodium-ion leaders, Faradion to bring world-changing sodium-ion battery technology to commercial, residential and industrial ventures across Oceania and Southeast Asia.
“The startup in Australia has a small number of employees, but it’s backed by well-established industry players such as ICM Investments, Faradion and Reliance Industries, making it a significant player in the industry. We’ve known about the potential of sodium-ion batteries for a long time but prior to this, the technology hasn’t been mature enough for the market. With the increased demand for energy storage and the latest development in this area, it’s certainly a very exciting to be involved in taking this technology mainstream.”
When Karolina heard that BASF and One Roof were offering scholarships for female entrepreneurs working on businesses with a positive environmental impact, she was excited by the prospect of being able to hone her leadership skills and extend her local network, so eagerly penned an application. As the fates would have it, Karolina was successful.
“I’m very excited about the One Roof scholarship, because I’ve been following this community and the activities they’ve been organising for a long time. I’ve always been interested in getting involved, but would you believe it when I say that initially felt intimidated and self-doubt, especially when you are joining a community where the majority of members hold higher positions.
But then I realised, that every time I feel uncomfortable, it’s a good thing because it means that I’m continuing to grow and learn. So every time I feel uncomfortable I tell myself not to panic, it’s just how progress is meant to feel like. You never know, you might just surprise yourself with what you can achieve!
As part of her scholarship, Karolina has access to meet with a range of business experts to practice business pitches, test and validate ideas, have regular coaching calls and attend online masterclasses, virtual and in-person networking sessions.
“Everyone’s history is so different, but at the same time it’s so helpful to connect with strangers. Being part of One Roof's community is truly a unique and enjoyable experience. As a participant in One Roof's community, I have learned a great deal about the value of community and collaboration. I have discovered the importance of being surrounded by like-minded individuals who share similar interests and goals, and how this can lead to new and meaningful connections. It’s interesting to see, how everyone has something valuable to contribute, regardless of their job title or experience. Also, the social events and activities organized by One Roof have shown me the value of taking breaks and connecting with others on a personal level, which has helped me to maintain a healthy work-life balance.”
With so many opportunities at her feet, Karolina says she feels that she’s right where she’s meant to be, with the best still yet to come. “I’m very, very happy to be in Australia because I feel like energy storage, and the green energy sector are all relatively new in Australia compared to some other countries like Germany, which makes Australia a vibrant and exciting place. It’s an amazing space to be in because there is fantastic opportunity for growth as I have the ability to gain more knowledge and contribute to taking things to the next level.”